School Vouchers

Proposed School Voucher Bill (SB 1) Unstalled and Inching Forward

Thank you to Larry Feinberg, keystonestateeducationcoalition.org for the following update on the proposed school voucher legislation.  Sounds like SB 1 is ‘unstalled’ and is moving forward again.

HI Pattye –

Here’s the latest update on the voucher bill SB1:

Allentown Morning Call Capitol Ideas Blog
John Micek, April 27, 5:49 p.m.

Senate Repubs, Corbett Reach Agreement On Voucher Bill

Senate Republicans And Gov. Tom Corbett have apparently resolved their differences over a stalled school vouchers bill, Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware, said this afternoon. Because we have friends in all the wrong places, here’s the amendatory language that’s under consideration (this part is strictly for the Trainspotters amongst you):

· Effective date of Implementation of Opportunity Scholarships and EITC increase/changes delayed until July 1, 2012.
· New timeline as a result:
· 2012-2013 – Year One – Low-income children in failing schools eligible for Opportunity
· Scholarships;
· 2013-2014 – Year Two – Low-income children in attendance boundaries of failing schools;
· 2014-2015 – Year Three – All low-income children statewide.
· As a result, there will be no significant budgetary costs in the upcoming fiscal year.
· Year Three Opportunity Scholarship recipients will be capped at 3% of the previous year’s Basic Education Funding (BEF) appropriation – projected at approximately $163 million in 2014-2015.
· PDE will administer the program.
· The Education Opportunity Board will remain in place in an advisory capacity and to approve the guidelines issued by PDE.
· The Governor will appoint the initial three members of the Education Opportunity Board with successor appointments confirmed by the Senate (modeled after the Philadelphia School Reform Commission).
· PDE’s definition of “LOW-ACHIEVING SCHOOLS” will be utilized with a separate ranking of elementary and secondary schools focusing on the bottom 5% of combined math and reading scores on most recent PSSA.
· In Year Four (2015-2016):
· Entire amount in the Excess Fund will start funding the Public School Choice Demonstration Grants for school districts to establish their own tuition grant programs (Public to Public) and for funding the Middle-Income Scholarship Program;
· Middle-Income Scholarship Program eligibility will increase to 350% of Federal Poverty ($78,225 for a family of four).

Read more:  http://blogs.mcall.com/capitol_ideas/2011/04/senate-repubs-corbett-reach-agreement-on-voucher-bill.html#comments

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On School Voucher Question, State Rep Kampf offers a ‘Wait and See Approach’

On Thursday, March 3, I emailed State Rep. Warren Kampf in regards to the proposed school voucher legislation. I followed up my email with a telephone call to his Paoli office on March 7.  At that time, his chief of staff, Sean Dempsy spoke with Rep. Kampf re my email and offered that Rep. Kampf would have a response to me by the end of the week.  Here is an excerpt from my email to our State Representative, which I posted on Community Matters last week:

“ . . . There has been much discussion about the proposed school voucher bill S.B.1. which would help the state’s poorest children from the lowest-performing schools by providing options of attending public, private or parochial school. This week the Senate Education Committee voted 8-2 in favor of the bill and the proposed legislation will move forward in the process.

It is important for constituents to know where our elected officials stand on all important issues, including the school voucher program. State Senator Andy Dinniman (D-Chester) serves on the Senate Education Committee and voted in favor of the proposed school voucher legislation.  As our State Representative, could you please offer your thoughts on the proposed ‘opportunity scholarship’ legislation?  In your response, please address specific issues including the plan’s estimated price tag of $860 million, the constitutionality of the proposed legislation and the issue of funding parochial schools with taxpayer money.”

Rep. Kampf did not respond to my email.  At 5 PM today, I received an email from Dempsey referring me to the State Rep’s website to read his position on school choice . . .  Rep. Kampf’s “wait and see approach” (see below).

Kampf Praises Creative Solutions, Cautious on ‘School Choice’

3/11/2011
By Rep. Warren Kampf, 157th District 

Competition is critical to the efficiency of any enterprise, whether it is businesses competing for consumers by becoming more cost-effective or schools improving their teaching methods to lure students.  There is a place for competition in our education system. 

But before we adopt any so-called “school choice” proposal, we must examine whether the new system costs the state and school districts more money or subsidizes inefficient private schools.   

At this stage, I am taking a wait and see approach.  As for Senate Bill 1, it is difficult to comment on a bill that will be significantly transformed by the time it reaches the House.  As is the case with another “school choice” bill, House Bill 240, I expect the legislature to pass numerous amendments to alter its rules and scope, though in what way I cannot yet predict.

I will just restate my position that whatever new system is tried, it should be done in a way that improves the overall quality of our state education system, and does not drive up costs for taxpayers and already cash-strapped schools without some very clear, tangible benefits to all of our children. 

I remain open to creative ideas for improving Pennsylvania’s public school system.  I am aware that the system works well in some districts, and is more troubled in others.  It is my goal to embrace what works and fix what needs improvement.

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Red-Hot State Voucher Program Clears Initial Hurdle

Teacher unions and school board members must be lining up across the state this morning in opposition to the latest Senate Education Committee vote. 

Calling the proposed school voucher bill, an ‘opportunity scholarship’, the committee voted 8-2 yesterday in favor of the proposed legislation. The bill intended to help the state’s poorest children from the lowest-performing schools by providing options of attending other public, private or parochial schools, did not pass the committee without debate.  The troubling issues that many of us have discussed, including constitutionality, religious freedom and the cost to public schools were sticking points for two members of the committee.

The Senate Education Committee is composed of six Republicans and four Democrats. Co-sponsoring the proposed legislation is Democratic Sen. Anthony Williams and Senate Education Committee Chair Jeffrey Piccola (R-Dauphin).  All six Republicans supported the bill, as did two Democrats, Williams and Sen. Andy Dinniman.  If you recall Dinniman had some suggested amendments to the bill, including testing and accountability from the non-public schools.  The opposing school voucher bill members of the committee were Democrats Jim Ferlo and Daylin Leach. 

Leach debated the proposed legislation on the grounds that the bill is not constitutional.  Ferlo and Leach are concerned that the voucher system could erode public schools whereas the others feel that the legislation actually offers a lifeline to those children trapped in the low-performing schools. The opposing sides present two distinctly different ways of looking at the same situation.  Piccola suggests that Leach’s argument that the school voucher legislation is unconstitutional is an erroneous interpretation of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The chair of the Senate Education Committee also dismissed the argument that the bill is in conflict with the state constitution in regards to support of religious schools with public money.

With all the questions swirling around this legislation, why did the Senate Education Committee seemingly just push it along through the system?  Usually, I would be complaining about the slowness of government process, but it is amazing the way this school voucher bill is bulldozing its way through Harrisburg.

Aside from the many questions, concerns and debates swirling around this voucher bill, why don’t we hear much about the cost of this ‘opportunity scholarship’?  Gov. Corbett swept into the Governor’s office under the umbrella of austerity and budget constraints, so can someone please explain to me how the estimated $860 million in taxpayer costs by the end of the third-year phase of the voucher program, meets that mission?  And the $860 million does not take in to consideration the dollars the bill will siphon from the public schools. 

Help me understand . . . what am I missing?

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